John Wayne Gacy wasn’t a very likely murder suspect. He was a Kentucky Colonel, business owner and involved in many community charities. He also dressed up as a clown named Pogo at charitable events. He even got Secret Service clearance to meet with then-First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Yet Gacy had a dark side that few people ever encountered and even fewer lived to tell about.
Gacy was born on March 17, 1942, the middle child and only son of a Catholic family in Chicago, IL. His childhood is said to have been abusive, with physical abuse by his father and sexual abuse by a family friend alleged. After dropping out of high school, he married and fathered two children before his first sex crime arrest in Iowa in 1968.
Gacy was charged with sodomizing teenager Mark Miller. He pleaded guilty to the charge and received a sentence of 10 years. Although he received parole after serving only 18 months in prison, his wife had left him, taking their two children with her and cutting off all ties with Gacy.
Now divorced, Gacy moved back to the Chicago area, where he met his second wife, Carole Hoff. After their marriage in 1972, Hoff and her two children moved into Gacy’s home, which became a popular hangout for the neighbors, who attended parties and cookouts there.
Gacy’s second wife began to notice troubling aspects of her husband’s personality within a couple of years. He became distant and the couple shared sexual relations less and less frequently and finally not at all . Hoff also found a collection of magazines featuring explicit homosexual content in the home. On top of all this, she noticed a terrible odor coming from the basement. Gacy blamed the smell on water damage, but in reality it came from the bodies of several young men he had sexually assaulted, murdered and then buried under the home.
In 1976, Hoff left Gacy. He continued to kill young men, with only two of his chosen victims known to have escaped. Both went to police, but the 1977 complaint of the first was dismissed by police. They believed Gacy when he said the activity was consensual. The second complaint, in 1978, resulted in an arrest and upcoming trial for Gacy.
While Gacy was awaiting that trial, Robert Piest, age 15, was reported missing. Witnesses placed Gacy with Piest at the drugstore where the younger man worked. During the investigation into Piest’s disappearance, police linked Gacy to several other missing young men and finally obtained a search warrant for his home. During the search, they unearthed human bones in the home’s crawlspace.
Gacy confessed to the murders of 33 young men on December 22, 1978. He told police he’d buried 28 of them under his home, giving them a hand-drawn map to show the locations of the bodies, and thrown another 5 bodies, including that of Piest, into the Des Plaines River. Police demolished Gacy’s home and searched the Des Plaines River, eventually finding all 33 bodies. However, 8 of Gacy’s victims were never identified. In 2011, police exhumed the unidentified remains to allow DNA comparison between the bodies and family members of young men that went missing during Gacy's killing spree and were thought to be among his victims. Following the exhumation, one suspected victim, Harold Wayne Lovell, was discovered alive by his family, via an online mug shot from Florida in which Lovell used his middle name.
During his trial, Gacy’s defense contended he was insane, schizophrenic and had multiple personalities. Despite this, however, the jury convicted him in less than two hours of deliberations and sentenced him to death.
Gacy was executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994. The last words of a murderous clown? Reportedly, they were, “Kiss my ass.”